Students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School will have even more opportunities to advocate for human rights and asylum protection, thanks to a gift from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and its partners. The gift honors Robert C. Sheehan, a 1969 graduate of the Law School who recently ended his 15-year tenure as executive partner of the law firm and assumed a new role as the firm’s pro bono partner.
Penn Law is using the $1 million gift to create the Sheehan Asylum/Human Rights Project. The school will recruit a full-time professor to guide students as they work on asylum cases in partnership with local providers of legal services to immigrants.
The Sheehan Project will be part of Penn Law’s three-year-old Transnational Legal Clinic
, where students work with clients across cultures, languages, borders and legal systems on human rights litigation and advocacy. It is one of nine clinics in Penn Law’s Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Education
, which offers sophisticated instruction and legal experience in civil practice, child advocacy, mediation and criminal defense through its clinics and professional externships.
“Bob Sheehan is not only one of the world’s most respected law firm leaders, he is a longtime and influential advocate for human rights,” said Penn Law Dean Michael A. Fitts
. “He has developed an exemplary pro bono program at Skadden that is respected worldwide for its work on criminal appeals, political asylum cases, post-conviction death penalty appeals and other matters. We are honored to receive this gift, which will benefit our students and the clients they represent tremendously.”
Sheehan, who was executive partner from 1994 to April 2009 and previously founded Skadden's Financial Institutions Mergers & Acquisitions Group, oversaw the firm’s global expansion and spearheaded community service initiatives, including pro bono work. From 2001 to 2008, the average number of pro bono hours for Skadden attorneys nearly doubled, and the percentage of lawyers who contribute at least 20 hours a week increased from 38 percent to 65 percent. The firm also launched, and continues to support, the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, which provides two-year fellowships to at least 25 very talented young lawyers every year so they may pursue careers in public interest law. With the 2009 class announced earlier this year, the foundation has supported 564 fellows over the past 21 years, and more than 90 percent of them have pursued careers in public interest career after their fellowship tenures. In 2008, Skadden, Arps and The City College of New York created the Skadden, Arps Honors Program to increase diversity in law schools and the legal profession.
“People from many parts of the world suffer in unimaginable ways simply because of their political and religious affiliations,” said Sheehan. “Guiding them through the U.S. legal system so they can escape persecution is one of the most valuable services we as lawyers can provide. I am grateful to Skadden and Penn Law for establishing the asylum/human rights project to help future generations of lawyers pursue opportunities in this area of public interest law.”
Earlier this year, Sheehan received the Pro Bono Institute’s Laurie D. Zelon Award from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in recognition of his exemplary pro bono service. In 2008, he was the recipient of the St. Thomas More Award from the Lawyers Committee of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund in New York City for his leadership and service to the legal profession. In addition, Sheehan received the Legal Aid Society’s 2005 Servant of Justice Award for his many significant contributions to pro bono causes.